When the Dallas Cowboys started the 2019 offseason, they did not have many glaring needs. After reaching the divisional round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Los Angels Rams, Dallas looked set up to bring most of their talent back and retool for a playoff run in 2019.
The one position that had a clear question mark was slot receiver. Seven-year Cowboys player Cole Beasley was entering unrestricted free agency, and his return seemed less than likely. In his seven years in Dallas, Beasley became one of the better slot men in the NFL.
In his best season in 2016, Beasley caught 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns. In 2018 the former SMU product was the second-most targeted receiver on the team. At seasons end he had 86 targets which turned into 65 catches for 672 yards, and who could forget his game-winning touchdown catch against the New York Giants in Week 17.
Beasley also led the NFL in separation rate for receivers in 2018.
The decision of what to do with Beasley was a tricky one. Quietly he had become one of the Cowboys most reliable players, and he also was rarely hurt. He played in at least 15 games in every season since 2014, and he and quarterback Dak Prescott had a good rapport. Beasley seemed to always be open and was always there if Prescott needed someone to connect with on third down. In his Cowboys’ career, Beasley caught a remarkable 116 passes for 1,287 yards on third down alone.
At 30-years-old, the Cowboys did not seem inclined to offer Beasley a high-dollar, long-term deal, and on March 12 he moved on and signed a four-year, $29 million dollar contract with the Buffalo Bills. Not signing Beasley to a four-year deal was a smart move by Dallas, but it left them with a hole at slot receiver.
The Cowboys wasted no time filling this void, as just seven days after Beasley’s departure, Dallas signed veteran receiver Randall Cobb to be their new slot man. Dallas replaced the guy who played the second-most percentage of snaps in the slot in the NFL in 2018 with the guy who led the NFL in that percentage.
First, in 2018, the top two receivers in slot percentage (who saw any significant volume of snaps) were Randall Cobb (86.4%) and Cole Beasley (85.9%).— Zac Reed (@tacitassassin13) July 18, 2019
What piqued my interest is that Cobb could effectively replace Beasley in Dallas... (I may have to rethink my Cobb-snobbery.)
Cobb is an eight-year pro and has had many ups and downs in his NFL career. Despite not always being able to stay healthy, when he is on the field he produces. According to PFF, Cobb hadn’t posted a season with a receiver grade below 73 since his rookie year through the 2017 season.
How Randall Cobb has graded throughout his career so far pic.twitter.com/Xnc38qtrSz— PFF (@PFF) April 19, 2018
Cobb’s 2018 campaign was hamstrung by a hamstring injury. He was able to appear in just nine games, catching 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. This was the first time since 2013 that Cobb had not registered at least 60 catches and 600+ yards in a season.
Despite the drop in his numbers, he still was productive when on the field. In the nine games he played, he caught three or more passes in eight of them and averaged a little over ten yards per catch. In the first game of 2018 when he seemed to be at his healthiest, he caught nine passes for 142 yards including a 75-yard touchdown pass that ended up being the game-winner.
Aaron Rodgers hits Randall Cobb for the CLUTCH 75 yard touchdown pic.twitter.com/6CpscSeCRS— FanDuel (@FanDuel) September 10, 2018
The play below perfectly exemplifies the difference between Beasley and Cobb. Beasley was always a guy who, despite being able to get open, was pretty pedestrian when it came to yards after the catch. Cobb is a different animal in that regard. He has made a career of making big things happen after he catches the football. As for replacing his production on third down, Cobb actually has been better in his career, catching 129 passes for 1,832 yards, 17 touchdowns, and a 14.2 yards per reception average.
The big question mark for Cobb is health. If he is able to stay on the field, he is a clear upgrade over Beasley. His ability to make things happen after the catch, and versatility to runt he ball occasionally make him extremely valuable to Dallas. Now we just have to see if he can stay on the field.